Complaint Filed Against Owner of Unheated Building

The city filed an emergency repair order Thursday morning

By BJ Lutz and Jeff Goldblatt
|  Thursday, Jan 26, 2012  |  Updated 3:59 PM CDT
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Residents of a Lincoln Park apartment building have been told they'll need to use their ovens to heat their apartments and their stoves to boil bathing water for more than three weeks after a mechanical failure in the building.

Residents of a Lincoln Park apartment building have been told they'll need to use their ovens to heat their apartments and their stoves to boil bathing water for more than three weeks after a mechanical failure in the building.

UPDATE: By court order, building to have heat, hot water by Monday

Chicago's Buildings Department will go to court Thursday against the owners of a Lincoln Park apartment building after residents were told they need to use their ovens to heat their units and stoves to boil bathing water because of a mechanical failure in the building.

The main chimney on the building, at 2738 N. Pine Grove Ave., is clogged and was found to be letting high levels of carbon monoxide into the apartments, a Peoples Gas spokeswoman said.

That chimney exhausts the central boiler and hot water tanks.

"The building at 2738 N. Pine Grove Avenue is not in compliance with City code that requires tenants be provided with adequate heat every day in the cold weather months," Buildings Department reps said in a statement. "The City’s first concern is the safety of the tenants."

The city filed a complaint against the building's property owner Thursday morning and an emergency repair order ahead of a 1:30 p.m. hearing to try and compel a receiver to take over repairs at the building. 

"It's definitely frustrating, and it's definitely something that could have been prevented, but stuff happens," resident Margot Greer said inside her apartment Wednesday evening while bundled up in a thick winter coat and hat.

Chicago's low temperature early Wednesday morning was 22 degrees, and Greer said she's especially concerned about the older residents who live in the more than 160 units of the 1920s, 14-floor mid-rise building, which used to be known as the Lincoln Park Arms Hotel.

Peoples Gas began receiving calls about the property on Monday. Inspectors subsequently found carbon monoxide levels of 200 parts per million, a dangerously high level.

"You want a zero level, really [of carbon dioxide]," said spokeswoman Bonnie Johnson. "Any level higher than nine [parts per million], you start running into health issues.

City officials began receiving complaints from building residents about the lack of heat a day later. Those complaints were forwarded to the Department of Buildings, which ordered an inspector to the property first thing Thursday morning to assess the situation.

"The Department of Buildings takes complaints like these extremely seriously, because these complaints are a matter of life safety," stressed spokesperson Caroline Weisser.

Under Chicago ordinance, landlords are indeed mandated to furnish an adequate supply of heat to their residents during the cold winter months. Building owners can be fined up to $500 for each day they don't provide heat, Weisser said.

Residents have been given the option to move out without penalty. Those who choose to stick it out are able to get up to a $100 credit on a space heater and will not have to pay rent in February, said the property manager, Lakeview Associates.

"In the event that you do need supplemental heat, you may only use the oven for less than one hour while you are at home and while you are awake, not sleeping," the company said in a letter to residents. "Use your best judgment."

The Chicago Fire Department strongly recommends against using ovens for heat. Doing so is a fire hazard and can expose residents to dangerous levels of carbon dioxide, officials said.

Greer said the concessions being offered put her more at ease but said she may look into other options.

"I will be moving out as soon as possible because I've just had enough of this," she said.

Others, like Francisco Benavides, who said he's lived in the building for about 18 months, were more complacent.

"Personally I'm not that upset about it because I realize it's an old building and things happen, so as of right now my attitude is very forgiving," he said, adding that he plans to use the shower at his gym.

"It'll be a good excuse for me, personally, to get over there working out," he said.

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